Firefighters are truly heroes, frequently risking their own health and safety to rescue others. In the United States the latest U.S. Fire Department Profile, issued in April of 2017 and covering data for 2015, estimates that there were about 1.2 million local firefighters at that time. About 70% of those were volunteer firefighters, the remaining 30% career firefighters. The career fighters typically work in communities with at least 25,000 people, while the volunteers communities tend to be smaller than 25,000 folks. A little more than 7% of firefighters were women at the time of the report.
Firefighting is not an easy profession. It attracts those drawn to dangerous situations, willing to risk their lives to help others. A report on fatalities in 2017 showed 60 “on-duty” firefighter deaths in that year — and that was a comparatively small number relative to other years. Sadly ten of the deaths were caused by being struck by vehicles.
Another report noted that on the job accidents were not the main cause of death. Rather, the biggest cause of death was cancer due to the amount of smoke inhalation to which firefighters are subject. So what types of financial support beyond community budgets are available to help these heroes who risk their lives to keep us safe?
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Of course all grant seekers are welcome to — and should — check out grants.gov to search for grants for which they may be eligible. However if you are looking for grants and other funding for your fire department don’t get your hopes too high. We checked to see what might be available at the time of this writing (late December 2018) and we found little if anything remotely related to fire departments and fire fighters. But that doesn’t mean that the government has nothing to offer in this area…
The U.S. Fire Administration, part of FEMA, does provide some funding and grants to provide assistance to firefighters - both those in career departments and those with volunteer organizations. Many of these awards — which are in the Assistance to Firefighters Grants category — are related to equipment and other gear as well as to promoting programs to improve fire prevention and generally protect everyone’s health and safety.
In the category called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants financial awards go directly to fire departments and to volunteer groups to help maintain an adequate number of well trained firefighters.
How does one go about applying for these funds and grants? The first step is to register with the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Instructions are povided on the fema website. It’s worth digging into in order to be sure you get a shot at financial assistance that can improve your department’s operation.
As this article is being written late in the year the application periods for most of these opportunities are closed for 2018. However it would be wise to get a head start on a plan of action to apply for those grants and funds for which your organization will be eligible in 2019.
December 2018: Special funding for wildfire mitigation:
This is a special alert due to the devastating, major fires over the past year. Fema has produced a guide to special funding and grants which can be used all over the country. The report is free and can be downloaded from the Fema website. It covers not just grants but also alternative funding sources and tips for knowing which might be right for your organization.
New Grants Possible due to Siren Act:
A new law backed by the National Volunteer Fire Council has gone to the President’s desk! This law, called the SIREN act, is part of what is commonly known as the “Farm Bill” (or the” Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018”). The act sets up a new grant program in the Department of Health and Human Services. These grants will be specifically for EMS agencies in rural areas. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month (December 21018) and it has been sent to the President. It authorizes training and assistance programs at the amount of $23 million per year through the fiscal year 2023. Eligible applicants for the grants include government EMS agencies (both local and tribal) and also non-profit agencies that are active in rural areas. The grants can be used for a wide variety of activities such as training and education, acquiring critical certifications and licenses, procuring EMS equipment, educating providers of emergency health care on the use of technology and more. Individual grants will be a maximum of $200,000, and recipients will be required to come up with a local match of 10%.
Private Grants and Financial Assistance
Grants and other funding assistance are also provided by private organizations and foundations. Here are some that offer aid to career fire departments as well as to volunteer firefighting groups:
The Firefighters Support Foundation is a non-profit organization supported by donations raised through fundraising activities. They provide grants for equipment and for critical training programs. Some of the specific examples shown on their website include money for a thermal imaging camera, funds for the purchase of a special ops trailer, money for a woodland pump and more. They will entertain all requests for grants but they also do warn that they receive many more requests than they are able to fund. You can download an application on the ffsupport website, then just fill it out and send via mail.
The National Volunteers Fire Council is a nonprofit supporting volunteer firefighter groups as well as EMS and rescue services. They offer an annual Global Gear Giveaway to help departments and organizations in need of better gear to work with. The application process for 2018 closed in June. Check out more information at the nvfc website to get in on the next request cycle.
Additional assistance for finding grants is also available in Types of Grants and Where to Find Them. See specifically the section titled “Other Grants.” It provides tips for identifying and finding grants from foundations and from private corporations.